Florida, Arizona paving the way for school choice

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – Florida is a leader in education reform but several other states are also paving the way to counter controversial topics in the classroom, conservative…

(Daily Caller News Foundation) – Florida is a leader in education reform but several other states are also paving the way to counter controversial topics in the classroom, conservative education experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis administration’s education agenda has revamped parental rights and pushed back against controversial subjects in the classroom including gender identity, sexual orientation and Critical Race Theory (CRT). Experts praised the Sunshine State as a leader in the education field, but told the DCNF that there are several other states that have implemented similar policies to reform education. 

“Florida has been a leader when it comes to parental rights, transparent classrooms … but there are plenty of other states who are fighting the good fight,” Alex Nester, Parents Defending Freedom investigative fellow, told the DCNF.

DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law in 2022 which prohibits lessons about sexual orientation or gender identity in K-3rd grade. He signed a bill on Wednesday that extends the original bill to PreK-8 classrooms, while the state Department of Education (DOE) approved a proposal in April that expands the law to prohibit such lessons in grades 4-12 unless required by “state academic standards.”

“Florida and Arizona are two leaders in giving families more options in education and have been for many years,” Jonathan Butcher, Will Skillman senior research fellow in Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, told the DCNF. “Florida is also on the cutting edge of finding ways to protect K-12 children from the prejudice inherent in [diversity, equity and inclusion] and critical race theory [CRT], along with finding ways to preserve the teaching of biological facts when it comes to science and human biology. Arkansas has also taken some important steps in this area recently.”

Arizona enacted a law to boost parental rights in students’ education in 2022. Republican Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a sweeping education reform bill into law in March that prohibits material that promotes CRT or teaches topics that contain sexually explicit material, including gender identity, before the 5th grade.

CRT is the belief that America is fundamentally racist and teaches students to view social interactions through a racial lens.

bill pending in the Texas legislature would safeguard parental rights as well as expand school choice opportunities. South CarolinaIowaUtah and Florida also approved new school choice legislation.

“In terms of parent bills of rights and other ways to empower parents and reject radical gender ideology and racism, some 15 states already have parent bills of rights. Some of these preceded Florida’s legislation,” Butcher told the DCNF. “Florida has some specific provisions that other states are considering, such as the provision stating that elementary-aged children should not be taught about gender ideology. Polling finds that Americans oppose the teaching of gender ideology to elementary and even middle school students.”

Critics referred to the Parental Bill of Rights as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, however Tiffany Justice, co-founder of  Florida-based conservative non-profit Moms for Liberty, told the DCNF that “a lot of American parents would appreciate having a safeguard against [gender identity instruction] in their schools.”

“I don’t think it’s ‘if’ Florida is a blueprint, or ‘is’ Florida a blueprint, I don’t think is the question. I think it’s absolutely a certainty,” Justice told the DCNF. “American parents want schools to get back to the basics and ensure children are being given practical skills that they can use … [with] a focus on reading, on writing, on math.”

In terms of transparency, Florida exposed a list of books earlier this semester that were removed from public school libraries for including sexually explicit content. On May 9, the state DOE published photos of five social studies textbooks that were initially rejected and sent back for the publishers to correct content deemed “inaccurate,” “politically charged” or “not age appropriate.”

One of the books, intended for grades K-5, advised parents to discuss why people kneel for the national anthem while others, intended for students in grades 6th-8th and 9-12th, respectively, were flagged for discrepancies in their definitions of socialism and communism, the website shows.

“What Florida is really doing is cutting the fat. Of course, an obvious impact of that is the elimination of bogus theories on race, sex, and gender in schools,” Nester told the DCNF. “At the core, I think what the DeSantis Administration is focused on is holding bad actors accountable and ensuring that the government, including government schools, works for its citizens.”

Kentucky and Iowa lawmakers took steps to boost transparency in the classroom.

In March, the Kentucky legislature overruled in March Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that bars schools from requiring teachers to use preferred pronouns or enforcing policies that keep student information from their parents, according to its text. Beshear allowed Senate Bill 10, which permits parents to file complaints against books that include sexually explicit content, to become law without his signature.

Iowa legislators approved a bill to increase parental rights in April, which was signed by leaders of both chambers and sent to the Governor on May 11, according to the legislature website. Senate File 496, dubbed the Parental Rights bill, requires books and instruction materials are available for parents to review and that lessons are “age-appropriate,” and prohibits school officials from hiding a student’s gender identity from the parents, according to its text.

“There are very basic things that states can do to ensure that schools are functioning the way that they should,” Nester told the DCNF. “This includes protecting parents rights in the classroom, protecting free speech rights, ensuring that parents have access to curriculum and access, as well, to financial records.”

In early 2023, the administration rejected a new AP African American Studies course after alleging its framework contained elements of CRT. The College Board, which oversees all AP exams, later revised the curriculum and removed several sections that included “tenets” of CRT including one about “black queer studies” that “explores the concept of the queer of color critique, grounded in Black feminism and intersectionality, as a Black studies lens that shifts sexuality studies toward racial analysis.”

Virginia, Mississippi, North Dakota and Arkansas’ governors also requested the course material be reviewed to ensure the curriculum abides by state education laws. Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced in February that the course would be expanded to more schools across the state and alleged DeSantis put “political culture wars ahead of academic success,” while Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged College Board in January not to revise the course to meet Florida standards.

“Surveys find that Americans disagree with critical race theory’s attempt to preserve racial discrimination, and still other polling finds parents oppose teaching children that he or she can deal with their anxiety or growing pains by ‘assuming’ a different ‘gender,’” Butcher told the DCNF.